The emergency response coordination requirements in the final rule improve the information available to emergency planners and responders, making it more relevant and accessible, to help ensure responders understand the risks at the facility so they can better prepare for a safe and timely response.
The final rule includes revised language to avoid the implication that ‘local coordination’ means that the facility and LEPCs are assessing capabilities. EPA removed this provision because numerous commenters expressed concern that there is no accepted standard for community emergency response capability applicable nationwide, and that response resources and capabilities can only be evaluated in the context of the overall community’s response plan.
The owner or operator of a facility must coordinate response needs with local emergency planning and response organizations to determine how the facility is addressed in the community-wide emergency response plan and to ensure that local response organizations are fully aware of the regulated substances at the facility; their quantities; the risks presented by covered processes; and the resources and capabilities at the facility to respond to an accidental release of those substance. Coordination will also clarify the roles and responsibilities of local, state and federal responders and facility personnel in the case of an accidental release.
The final rule requires qualifying facilities to perform notification exercises and to perform tabletop and field exercises. Such exercises are widely acknowledged as a ‘best practice’ among public and private emergency response professionals. Exercises can increase emergency response readiness, both for facility owners or operators and local responders, by testing emergency plans and communications systems, and by ensuring local and facility response personnel know what actions to take during various accident scenarios.
The final rule includes additional language as part of the coordination with local emergency response officials, specifying that the owner or operator must consult with local officials to establish an appropriate frequency for field and tabletop exercises, with a minimum timeframe of one notification exercise per year, one tabletop exercise every three years, and at least one field exercise every 10 years.
The changes to the rule can help advance local preparedness and assist local response officials by improving the ability of planners and responders to make appropriate decisions concerning equipment, training, and procedures, and improve local contingency planning which may result in more efficient allocation of community public response resources and training.
Public comments generally supported EPA’s proposal for annual notification exercises, and therefore EPA is finalizing these provisions as proposed. Many commenters also supported incorporating requirements for field and tabletop exercises into the RMP rule, but some of these commenters also recommended various changes to the proposed provisions. The greatest number of comments related to the required frequency for exercises. These commenters stated that requiring field exercises every five years and tabletop exercises every year would be overly burdensome on facilities and local responders. In response to these comments, the final rule allows owners and operators to work with local authorities to establish field and tabletop exercise schedules that work for both parties. EPA decided to leave the timing and level of complexity of these exercises to the discretion of the facilities and first responders so as not to pose a potential burden of undue costs, time or stresses on resources.